Sunday, November 1, 2009

Method in Kafka and Tony Hill

I picked up The Castle this morning and read the introduction by Irving Howe to see if perchance it would inspire me to reread this depressing novel, something I swore (after reading it the first time years ago) never to do. The nature of Kafka’s writing is such that there has never been agreement or even consensus about what he means. Howe offers his opinion. Also in the volume I have, is the opinion of Thomas Mann.

And can there be agreement about the meaning of words like “method” when applied to individuals like Gadamer, Wittgenstein, and Cesar Milan?

I’d like to add Tony Hill to this list. He is the psychologist-police advisor in the BBC series “Wire in the Blood.” I have watched the episodes one after the other (on Netflix) and am up to Season 5. What he does would defy an orderly person’s prejudice about the meaning of “method,” but he has one none the less. And it is a pragmatic “method” comparable (at least initially) to Cesar Milan’s. He is mostly quiet when he begins, looking at the murder scene, looking at the body, listening to the witnesses, listening to other people’s opinions, and if he speaks, he is like Cesar, asking for clarification.

After that, Tony Hill engages in antics that baffle and alarm his coworkers. He talks to himself, talks as though he were the killer he is trying to find, repeating key words, acting out the crime in his mind, while he revisits witnesses, acquaintances of the victim, the daily life of the victim over and over until something fits – or doesn’t fit. He is not constrained by an external system like the ones Gadamer rails (if that word can be applied to Gadamer’s mild approach) against, but he has preconceptions and these form an internal system, a Tony-Hill-Modus-Operandi.

To insist that Tony Hill has a “method” might seem counter-intuitive, and I only do it to make the point that he doesn’t expose himself to undifferentiated chaos. He has an approach that over time (the time of his investigation) he makes order out of the pieces of the chaos that he selects. His coworkers see only the chaos, but he pulls out this piece and that one and as he does so, he slowly produces order. At the end of each episode order is achieved.

Order is never achieved in The Castle, and yet when one steps back from this novel, and his others and his short stories as well, one see that he wrote out of something, out of some system of preconceived ideas or dreams. If you have a vivid dream-life, for example, as Kafka did, and resolved to develop these dreams in short stories, the end result would seem and perhaps be chaotic, and yet couldn’t we in the psychological sense view what Kafka does as his “method”?

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